With a new semester underway, a perennial question comes to mind: What is the best way to purchase textbooks?
The number of options can be overwhelming. The bookstore offers every book you need for a course, but there are new books, used books and rentals, plus outside options like Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and rental sites like Chegg.com.
Rentals are often the cheapest, and going that route can be tempting. Students will find that buying books online is the optimal solution in the long run, however.
Purchasing a textbook is a better use of money than renting. I always purchase textbooks online, except for when I have to buy the USC published titles, it’s easy for me to find a title online with the same quality and at a much lower price than in the bookstore. For example, a used novel on Amazon can cost less than $5, compared to one with a $20-$30 sticker in the bookstore.
Besides the low prices, the Amazon marketplace helps its customers make smart choices by providing detailed information for the books, such as a description, seller’s rating and feedback from other customers.
Renting textbooks might seem like an attractive option. Some rental companies try hard to minimize the differences between rented and owned books. Websites like Chegg.com advertise that you can “save hundreds of dollars by renting books,” while CampusBookRental.com allows students to highlight and take notes on their books for free.
The USC bookstore provides an online textbook rental service, which directly links to Bookrenter.com. Although companies try to give students more benefits, I would rather own a book without concern for additional charges for inappropriate use of the book.
These days, though, textbooks are facing some competition. E-books have become an attractive alternative, particularly with the introduction of the iPad. Admittedly, e-books are lighter, greener and sometimes cheaper. They also allow you to take as many notes as you want.
Last fall, USA Today reported that students at the Stanford School of Medicine who were given iPads found it easier to take notes and draw diagrams with the attached stylus pens than with their laptops. But purchasing e-books does bring several concerns including limited titles and high initial investment on e-books devices.
E-books users will also be able to recoup any of their costs by selling an unwanted title they have finished, as you could with a physical book, and they can’t buy used copies at significant discounts. If you order books on Amazon, you can still sell them back to the USC bookstore and make a few dollars at the end of the semester.
Amazon is the best mainstream choice to get your books without breaking the bank. But if you want to get creative, the best way to get your textbooks for the semester is taking the initiative and organizing a trading system with students in your residential hall or apartment building. Students did just that to create Parkside’s Book Buddy program, where residents who don’t have the patience to sell their books online simply exchange books with each other.
Are we in the process of making a “net bookstore” that dominates the current system — the overpriced USC bookstore? Perhaps, but it requires overwhelming participation from the student body, a system that is good in theory but difficult to implement.
Emily Wang is a freshman majoring in business administration.